Tien Huang held onto the hands of the twins as he started to run with all his might, the subdued popping sounds coming from behind him jolting his heart. This was it, the end of the road for the Tien clan, several thousand years of history were about to be wiped clean and brought to an end. It wasn't exactly uncommon, clans and sects were wiped out nearly every day, that was just a fact you had to accept in a universe as big as this one. But never had Tien Huang thought that it would be their turn to become another footnote in history, at least not during his lifetime.
He dragged the Zun siblings towards one of the side entrances into the compound, one used only by the servants. But the twins were only children, they hadn't even turned 10 yet, so how were they supposed to be able to keep up with his speed? It was inevitable that they would stumble and fall, Tien Huang's grasp on their hands the only thing preventing them from landing face first.
He made the snap decision that dragging them along was no longer an option, exerting a bit of force and lifting them both into the air. He held them close like he would an infant, his steps never once slowing down. He was still a cultivator at the middle-stage of the Soaring Immortal realm so his speed was nothing to scoff at, he crossed the ten or so kilometres in only a handful of minutes.
Not long after he passed through the side entrance, a roar that sounded like it came from a bear rocked the entire city. A gargantuan shadow rose up from behind Tien Huang, blotting out every trace of sunlight as a wave of power washed out from the compound he had just fled. His feet lost contact with the earth as he was launched forward, the wave of energy so powerful that it didn't even seem to care about the distance between him and its epicentre.
He rolled across the stone streets, his ears ringing with the roar from earlier. He quickly corrected his position, glancing down at the twins in his hands. Both of them had been battered somewhat from the tumble, Zun Zhi seemed to have lost a few teeth and Zun Zhao had a bleeding scrape on his forehead as well as a broken nose. But that was the extent of their injuries so Tien Huang didn't see a need to stop and administer emergency treatment.
As such, he continued to run, his face already entirely devoid of colour. The only thing he could hear right now was the echo of that horrible roar, as well as the anxious mutters of the twins he was carrying. But that was it, other than these two things, it was all silence. He had felt where the roar and wave of energy came from, and for everything to turn silent after it, there was only one explanation he could think of.
But he didn't dare to turn around to confirm it, he feared that he would collapse once he saw the truth. And he couldn't afford to collapse yet, he first had to get the children away so that he could at least say he had returned a bit of the favour that Liang Chen had given them. Only then, only then could he finally allow himself to collapse and join the rest of his family.
But what a shame, blessings come one at a time, but misfortune always comes in multiples. Only a handful of minutes had passed since the roar sounded out when the heavens decided that Tien Huang's efforts should be for nought. He crossed a bend in the street, his heart sinking to the pits of his stomach when he spotted the group of five that was currently making their way down that very same street he had just stepped onto.
One of the people in the group wore the light robes of the Enlai clan, but the other four wore different robes so he couldn't tell exactly where they came from. And as if to make matter worse, one of the people in the group had reached the early-stage of the Primordial Immortal realm, he was not an opponent that Tien Huang could fight.
The approaching group spotted Tien Huang at the same time as he spotted them, the gazes of the two groups interlocking as time seemed to crawl to a halt. The man that had reached the Primordial Immortal realm had his expression distort for a split-second, his lips twisting uncomfortably before the light in his eyes hardened.
"I'm sorry, I really am."
Tien Huang barely heard the man's mutter before he raised his hand. A metal pole materialized in front of Tien Huang, accelerating and smashing into the base of his throat just as he pushed the Zun twins aside so that they weren't also in its path. The force of the attack launched him backwards, his back shattering as he smashed into what he remembered used to be a pottery store.
The pole continued to move forward, piercing through his throat and nailing him to the building, the Zun twins flung to the side. Things had simply happened far too quickly for them, they had barely registered that they had crossed a corner when they were suddenly flung aside, their Young Master ending up with a pole through his throat.
Tien Huang's croaks rang in the ears of the twins, the hole in his throat and the resulting pooling of blood making his words practically ineligible. It took them a second, but the severity of the situation finally fully sank into the minds of the twins, Zun Zhi springing up with tears in her eyes.
"No, Young Master, we can't leave without you! Big Brother Chen will be sad if we go alone!"
The group of five that stood a distance away looked at the spectacle, the Primordial Immortal cultivator's still outstretched hand trembling. He had received strict orders, he knew what he was supposed to do. But looking at the group in front of him, at the two crying children, he wavered. His hand continued to tremble, his Qi constantly surging and receding.
But in the end, it was too much for him, he couldn't bring himself to do it. They were just children, what harm could they possibly cause, would it really be that wrong to just let them go? He started to lower his hand, but that action caught the eye of Zun Zhao, who had just barely struggled up to his feet after getting flung away.
He saw the man's arm move, and remembering how a single move of his had harmed their Young Master, he felt a terrible sense of unease wash over him. Would it be his sister next? Would she be the one to end up nailed to the wall like that? He had told his Big Brother Chen that he would protect his sister even if he had to endure pain, so fearing for her life, he acted on what could best be described as instinct.
"Leave her alone!"
His hand rubbed the interspatial ring that he had been gifted, the items inside had been neatly organized by function so that even the mostly clueless kids could find what they needed. He pulled out another ring, one that looked like it had been carved out of ruby, chain-like carvings etched into the entire thing.
The life-saving treasure that his Big Brother Chen gifted him only needed the smallest amount of energy to be activated, it was so little that even Zun Zhao could activate it. The ring crumbled as it activated, the chain-like carvings coming to life as countless crimson chains spawned in the air between Zun Zhao and the group of five.
The chains were only faintly connected to Zun Zhao's mind, just enough to differentiate between enemies and allies. The group of five didn't even get the chance to react, the chains acted like snakes and launched themselves at them, coiling around their bodies and limbs. They moved with a single purpose, to eradicate the determined threat, and they wouldn't care about how gruesome an act it was to accomplish that.
Three of the five men were the luckiest, the chains attacking them managed to coil around their bodies and then constricted, crushing them and turning their organs to paste. The last two men were the strongest, which could be considered their bad luck in this case, as they manage to dodge the first charge by the chains.
The chains failed to simply coil around them, so they settled for just coiling around the closest limb, their wrists, their shins, their necks if they could. And then they moved in different directions with full force, the two men getting pulled limb from limb in a macabre display.
This was the strongest offensive life-saving treasure that Liang Chen had left Zun Zhao, he had nabbed it from a middle-stage Primordial Immortal cultivator after killing him. Weaker cultivators would be crushed or torn apart by it, while stronger cultivators would at least be obstructed by it, calling it useful would be an understatement. What a shame that its previous owner died before they even got the chance to use it.
Zun Zhao felt his stomach turn at the sight, the realization that he had caused it only made things worse. He couldn't help but lean forward, emptying his stomach as he retched again and again. He kept vomiting until it felt like he was throwing up pure stomach acid, but he finally managed to regain a semblance of control by mentally chanting the words that Big Brother Chen had told him.
In a situation where you need to protect your sister, you aren't likely to be able to avoid pain. But most pain is worth bearing if you bear it while living the life you chose for yourself.
He repeated the words again and again, using them to gather his strength and force his stomach to become quiet. He had killed them, but he had protected his sister in doing so, he had even gotten to punish the men who hurt his Young Master, he would just have to find solace in that fact.
"Young Master! Please get up, we need to move!"
He didn't even bother, or remember, to wipe his mouth as he rushed over to Tien Huang, his eyes practically radiating desperation. Tien Huang had taken care of them for most of their lives, he had been good to them and protected them from the scary people in the Tien clan. So whether it was because of unwillingness or cluelessness, he didn't want to accept that this was the end of the road for Tien Huang.
"I can't...Get up...Leave...Leave..."
Tien Huang could only croak out the words, his lungs filling with his own blood, it was a borderline miracle that he was still alive. But he knew that it wouldn't last much longer, a minute or so would be the best he could manage, not even a miracle doctor would be able to save him in this situation. All this commotion would definitely attract any other groups that were nearby, the Zun twins had to leave now if they wished to have any semblance of a chance. But neither of them showed any signs that they were going to leave, bawling their eyes out as they tried to move the pole that nailed Tien Huang to the wall.
While the Zun twins were doing their best to free their doomed Young Master, there were actually two people overseeing the state of the city. Within the vast grey expanse of the void, the green-haired and grey-eyed teenager that had been present during the destruction of Violet Dawn city sat upon a throne made from black stone, a somewhat bored expression hanging on his face as he leaned against the throne's armrest.
The orange-haired and green-eyed youth that had also been present during the destruction was also there, a translucent bubble surrounding him and protecting him from the void around them. There was a third person there with them, a somewhat older looking brown-haired and blue-eyed man clad in a sky-blue robe decorated with brown feather-like markings. This man didn't have a bubble around him but rather a layer of shimmering rainbow-coloured energy.
Several hundred square screen-like holes had been torn into the void in front of them, each one depicting a different city, each one filled with varying degrees of chaos. Their gazes were constantly sweeping across the screens, until finally, the grey-eyed teen, the exalted ruler of the Void, was no longer able to bear it.
"Isn't it about damn time you tell me exactly what sort of point there is to this? I can somewhat understand the first attack since we managed to draw out Azatoth, but is there any point in baiting these cities like this? They'll all just get destroyed so what point is there in stringing them along?"
They were acting against several hundred cities at once, but he knew that these cities didn't really amount to much, not in the grand scheme of a Sphere War. That was especially the case when they weren't destroying them straight away and instead just pitting them against themselves like this. The one who responded was the somewhat older man, his seemingly bottomless eyes not showing any trace of agitation or irritation at the impatience of the other party.
"It's good to be confident, but the moment you become cocky, you lose. You're very young, so I don't blame you for not knowing the terror that this particular multiverse is capable of instilling, you'll have plenty of time to learn it. It's quite simple really, we need to do everything we can to increase our chances of victory, because if we lose then an untold number of our own children and friends will perish forever."
He knew, probably better than anyone else, how freakish this particular multiverse was. The rest of the Sphere of Existence wasn't that incredible, it was average for a man-made Sphere of Existence, it was just this one multiverse that was terrifying. It alone was the dangerous point in this Sphere of Existence, the one point that could turn the entire war on its head.
And because he knew this, he knew that he had to do whatever they could to increase their chances. He still remembered the time they lost the Second Sphere War, he was still counting the number of dead to this very day. He did not want to lose any more of his children, even if it meant having to discard all the children of this Sphere.
"And one of the better ways to increase our chances of victory is to divide the forces of our enemies, to split them apart from the inside. Now, granted, having these cities turn against each other isn't enough, they can at best be considered inconsequential. But look at how many people live in these cities, look how angry and sad some of them are, look at all the wrath that is gathering."
The man swept out his arm as he spoke, gesturing towards the screens ahead of them. The cities were filled with scenes of people losing friends and family, of people being too weak to protect anyone. Wrath and anguish were gathering in droves, minds were dropped into the crimson ocean of revenge and hatred.
"That wrath is our target this time around, people filled with such intense emotion tend to be willing to bear anything to achieve their goal. And those willing to bear any sort of pain tend to have a greater chance of surviving the Shadowchaser surgery. What do you think people will think when a whole bunch of Shadowchasers are running about unleashing all that pent up wrath?"
The Shadowchaser surgery, the man couldn't even remember how much time it had taken to decipher that thing. And that was with him having plenty of specimens he and his aides could study, it followed a path he had never imagined, a way of creation that went against the sanctity of that law.
The grey-eyed ruler swept his still bored pupils across the screens in tune with the man's gesture, not showing the slightest interest in any of the sorrow and pain that was unfolding.
"...I get it a bit, but are Azatoth and the others really so stupid that they'll think Lucifer is going around conspiring with the enemy?"
The ruler had made sure to read up on all the records he could get his hands on so he was aware of the fact that the Shadowchaser surgery was something only Lucifer had access to. But to use that simple fact and try to turn the rulers of this multiverse against each other? That sounded far too naive and simple, even for him. And indeed, the brown-haired man shook his head softly.
"Not at all, they won't believe it for a single second. But the Shadowchaser surgery is something created by Lucifer, the entire multiverse knows that the technique belongs to him, only he and Lilith are able to perform it. Or so it should be at least. And as long as they believe that Lucifer may not be on their side, then we'll have achieved our goal, that suspicion will fester, it will nag at them and push them away from him."
He had already come to terms with that it was extremely unlikely that he would ever be able to turn the rulers of this particular multiverse against each other so he had abandoned that avenue long ago. But while a war relied heavily on its strongest fighters, they weren't the only ones who could change the outcome. If they lost all their allies, even they could fall, especially if enough belief was moved away from them and onto his side instead, that would only make things even easier.
"Oh, there's another pair, I'll go greet them."
The brown-haired man's gaze coincidentally landed on the screen showing Moonset city, spotting the crying Zun twins. Sorrow and hatred, both of them were showing ample signs of both. They were also very young, and children like this would always have greater purity in their emotions, they would be more true to them. And if worst came to worst, they would be a bit easier to prod in the right direction.
The man's body split open, an identical clone appearing at his side. The clone waved his hand, a bit of rainbow-coloured energy tearing a hole in the void and allowing him to leave. The other side of the tear brought him directly to Moonset city, right next to the Zun twins. The twins jolted when they noticed him, but he didn't take any action, simply shaking his head somewhat sadly while looking at Tien Huang.
"Gods forgive me, I was too late. I'm sorry, little ones, there is nothing that can be done for this young man any longer. If you have any last words you would like him to take to the next life, please say them now while he can still hear."
The twins trembled fiercely at the man's words, but Tien Huang also shook fiercely. He of course knew that he was going to die, the reason he shook was because he found himself unable to say a single thing. He wanted to warn the twins to not trust this man who could come from nowhere, but his throat refused to form the words. The Zun twins didn't know this, their tears only growing stronger as they clutched onto the metal pole.
"No! The Young Master is going to be fine!"
"You're lying, the Young Master is going to be fine!"
Perhaps, deep within, they had already understood this fact, it was just that their young minds hesitated with accepting it. Tien Huang and the Tien clan were everything they had, what would they do without them? Tien Huang wanted to say something, but to his horror, he felt his body go against his wishes, his hands rising and stroking their heads as he croaked out words he didn't mean.
The twins trembling grew worse as Tien Huang stroked their hair, those three bloodstained Avenge's ending up being the last things he ever got to say to them before life left his body. His hands fell limply to the side and his eyes grew dim, his entire body slacking. The man stood at the side and shook his head sadly, stretching out a hand in an inviting gesture to the kids.
"What a shame, another good man moves on to the next life. What an unjust death he received, multiple clans ganging up to ruin his family, no wonder he would beg to be avenged. As he said, if you come with me, I can help you. I can give you strength so that you won't have to suffer helplessly like this ever again, strength to avenge those that shouldn't have died, strength to protect your family with your own hands. What do you say?"